How to Calm Down an Angry Customer

12 Apr How to Calm Down an Angry Customer

“Speak when you are angry,” said Lawrence J. Peter, “and you’ll give the best speech that you will ever regret.” Being on the receiving end of an eloquent outburst is uncomfortable, but you can’t teach someone to calm down when they’re bent out of control. Dissatisfied customers may experience emotions a little like road rage, but can be hard to tell what exactly triggered them. At what intersection did they get cut off? What traffic signal did they not see? What accelerated their rage from zero to 60 in 30 seconds flat?

Regardless of the cause, here are four steps to handle a full scale riot on your hands:

  1. Assume the customer is right

This attitude is essential to avoid direct conflict. It’s a little like taking the correct stance before an opponent launches a lunge. Your footing has to be in the right place with your feet firmly on the ground and your body facing the right direction. Without the right posture you could face the full brunt of a direct charge.

At this stage in the interaction, don’t confuse the issue with the facts. Like listening to the 11 o’clock news, you will soon receive the details of what exactly went wrong. Assuming the customer is right will help move this process along.

  1. Observe but don’t engage

Instinctively, we like to meet emotion with emotion. “If you yell at me, I’ll snap right back at you.” This instinct for self-preservation might serve you well in other circumstances, but it will not serve you well at a job. The stakes are too high. If you’re an employee, you might lose your paycheck. If you’re the business owner, you might experience the whiplash effect of bad press.

Instead be like Captain Picard on the Starship Enterprise and respect the Prime Directive. Observe but don’t engage.

Another way of looking at it is as habit #4 and habit #5 in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #4 says “Think win/win.” Habit #5 says “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

So listen calmly. Understand the following vital pieces of information to help you resolve the situation:

  • The specific mishap that served as a catalyst for the emotional outburst.
  • The customer’s interpretation of that experience.
  • The emotional charge behind the technical issue that went awry.

Always keep in mind that fixing the technical issue is not enough. Replacing the defective component, renewing the lapsed agreement, renegotiating the contract, cancelling the disputed charge, issuing a refund, filing a report that will lead to further investigation . . . none of these are enough.You have to go beyond these technical solutions and find out the reason behind the emotion. Before you scramble to put out the fire, find out the reason it started in the first place.

Understand that the customer is angry because they feel that their boundaries have been violated. They may feel hurt because they believe that their rights have been ignored. They may feel disappointed because they were expecting something that didn’t materialize. Somehow, the trust they placed in your company has been broken.

  1. Wait like a samurai

In the heat of battle, a samurai is patient. He reads the situation with detachment. He waits for the right moment before he acts. In a similar way, don’t spring forward with an immediate solution. Don’t apologize before you’ve heard the full story. Don’t offer to correct a misinterpretation of the event. Instead allow the customer to express their feelings, which show up in waves. Acting prematurely could ruin everything if the customer has not completely expressed their grievance.

  1. Respond like a Sage

A sage responds with wisdom. They speak softly without reciprocal anger. They reiterate what they heard. They clarify with questions. They do nothing to provoke further antagonism. It will eventually dawn on the customer that you are their ally, not the foe. You comprehend the situation. You understand what they went through. This is the crucial stage in the interaction. If you mess it up, the customer will stalk away in righteous indignation. If you handle it well, you will win a raving fan.

You can mess it up by quoting protocol, the rules, and regulations of your organization. You can mess it up by pointing out how the customer made the situation worse. You can mess it up by being completely tactless. Or you can handle it well by fixing the issue in the most efficient way possible or taking it straight to the authority figure who can. Promise your unhappy customer a full report to the powers that be on exactly what happened, or if you have the power, take care of the situation right then and there.

Actively look for ways to compensate the customer: a future discount, a free month, or whatever makes sense. Do something to make the customer feel they have gained, not lost. Defusing angry customers is just like the martial arts. With the right defensive moves you can take your opponent’s energy and use it strategically for your own defense. And with a little practice and the right mindset going in, you will become the master of cooling hot customers and protecting your company in every interaction you have.

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